New Technology Allows Early Closure of NNSA Monitoring Station, Saves Taxpayer Dollars

Press Release
Oct 22, 2012

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) today announced that it has closed its Transparency Monitoring Office (TMO) in Novouralsk, Russia ahead of schedule. The early closure was made possible by the successful use of U.S.-designed unattended monitoring technology in Russia and will save U.S. taxpayers approximately $1 million.

The TMO provided a long-term capability for U.S. technical experts to monitor the conversion of Russian weapons-origin highly enriched uranium (HEU) into low enriched uranium (LEU) at the Ural Electrochemical Integrated Enterprise (UEIE) under the 1993 U.S.-Russia HEU Purchase Agreement. Although TMO is closing, U.S. monitors will continue to observe HEU downblending operations at UEIE during six annual “special monitoring visits.”  During these visits, U.S. experts receive and review Russian nuclear material accounting and shipping documents, observe HEU processing firsthand, perform measurements to confirm that HEU is weapons grade, and retrieve data from the U.S.-designed Blend Down Monitoring System (BDMS).

The BDMS performs continuous, unattended measurements of the HEU to LEU conversion process and is currently installed at UEIE and three other Russian facilities that downblend HEU under the 1993 agreement. The BDMS provides high-quality transparency monitoring data while reducing the impact of continuous, in-person U.S. monitoring at the Russian facilities. The successful installation and maintenance of the BDMS has allowed NNSA to gradually reduce and ultimately discontinue TMO staffing.

“The Transparency Monitoring Office has served a unique and important role as the first and only permanent U.S. monitoring presence in a Russian nuclear material processing facility,” said NNSA Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation Anne Harrington. “TMO monitoring activities have been highly successful, confirming the elimination of thousands of weapons worth of HEU. We are very pleased that NNSA and Rosatom have successfully transitioned from the need for a continuous in-person monitoring presence to periodic monitoring visits supplemented by data from our continuous, unattended measurement systems. This innovative technical approach makes monitoring in Russia more efficient while achieving cost savings for the U.S. taxpayer.”

Under the 1993 HEU Purchase Agreement, Russia converts 500 metric tons (MT) of HEU from dismantled nuclear weapons into LEU fuel for commercial U.S. nuclear power plants. 500 MT of HEU is equivalent to 20,000 nuclear weapons. The program, popularly known as “Megatons to Megawatts,” currently supports the production of enough nuclear fuel to power nearly one out of every ten light bulbs in the U.S.

The 1993 agreement contains transparency monitoring provisions to ensure that all LEU purchased by United States Enrichment Corporation, the U.S. commercial executive agent, is derived from dismantled Russian nuclear weapons and is used for exclusively peaceful purposes in the U.S.

Russia is on track to complete HEU to LEU conversion in Russia and the delivery of all downblended LEU to the U.S. in 2013. The early closure of the TMO is the first step toward the full completion of U.S. HEU transparency monitoring activities in Russia in 2013.

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Established by Congress in 2000, NNSA is a semi-autonomous agency within the U.S. Department of Energy responsible for enhancing national security through the military application of nuclear science. NNSA maintains and enhances the safety, security, reliability and performance of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile without nuclear testing; works to reduce global danger from weapons of mass destruction; provides the U.S. Navy with safe and effective nuclear propulsion; and responds to nuclear and radiological emergencies in the U.S. and abroad.